February was again unseasonably warm and dry. Although we had some light morning frost towards the end of month, the forest floor has significantly dried out and we are beginning to shed our rain pants and even our boots on some days. We have noticed many signs of spring this month, including more insects, new birds, leaf buds and sprouts.
The children have found worms and black beetles beginning to emerge from the ground. This gives us the opportunity to remind them how to gently handle these small delicate creatures and compliment them on their gentle touch. On a couple different days we saw a rough skinned newt and talked about amphibians and how we do not pick them up; their skin is so porous that we risk harming them if we have hand sanitizer, bug spray, sunscreen or lotion on our hands. We have begun to see our native banana slugs as they come out of hibernation. We have heard frogs, the raven, and our native doug fir squirrels. We are also watching the activity at Squirrel Camp, where we find evidence of squirrels in the form of torn up fir cones and the leftover cone cobs. We have seen our resident black rabbit which we named Midnight. One day we watched Midnight eat forest candy (what the children call the edible buds of the douglas fir branches).
The children have also noticed some new birds visiting our snack table. Besides our year-round bird visitors like the towhees and the song sparrows, we are now seeing juncos and the beautiful large orange varied thrush. We are hearing the elusive winter wren belting out its bubbly and cheerful extended song. The forest is alive with the sound of music as all the birds search for mates and nesting sites. The children got a chance to study different styles of nests as I brought out my collection of a robin’s nest, a towhee nest and a hummingbird nest. It is fascinating that hummingbirds use spider web to bind their moss and lichen nests together. On several days the children sat like statues to watch the birds and it was really neat to see how long the kids could stay still and focused. As we sat quietly, one five year old girl whispered “I hear the earth move”.
The plant world is coming alive too. We have noticed buds on the hazelnut and doug fir branches and leaves on the elderberry. The smell of cottonwood perfumes the air. Huckleberry flowers and pink salmonberry flowers have appeared on the bushes and this gave us a chance to talk about how flowers turn into berries and seeds. The bracken fern is emerging and we are measuring how quickly the plant grows by placing sticks in the ground next to the ferns equal to the present height; then we go back and check each day to see how much they’ve grown. We have all noticed that the alder pollen is everywhere, especially in our eyes and on the leaves. We also learned about some medicinal plants such as dock leaf for treating nettle stings and Herb Robert (aka Stinky Bob) to stop bleeding.
As the forest dries out, the children are noticing many different colors of dirt and this led them to create a Dirt Museum. They collected the many different colors of dirt from different places, including brown, black, red, yellow and orange dirt. When we ask the question “Why is dirt different colors?” the children often answer “I think because they were made of different things that decomposed”. Forest Kindergarten children know this because of their hands-on experience with digging; they study the forest soil all the time as they dig and notice that the top layer of dirt is mostly debris and, as they dig deeper, the debris becomes more and more decomposed until it is dirt.
As the branches of the trees dry, the children are challenging themselves to climb higher than they have before (while still adhering to our climbing safety rules). Since Forest Kindergarten children are allowed to engage in minimal risk activities, such as climbing, they are very good at assessing risk; they tend to notice wet limbs are slippery and take precautions without us even having to remind them. While climbing, we often have the opportunity to witness and discuss energy transfer by seeing how bouncing on one branch makes others move.
As our puddle shrinks from lack of rain, we ask the children “Where is our puddle water?” Various answers this month included: “The sun is melting our puddle” (a 3 year old girl), “Under the ground” (a 3 year old boy) and – my personal favorite – “Home” (a 2 year old boy). Without water in the puddle, the children have observed that there are many different kinds of mud, each with its own quality. On several days we made a mud display which included these many various types of mud such as silky, sticky, gooey, slippery, sloppy, chocolate, paste, writing, face paint and liquid. One day a five year old said “When I step on the silky mud it turns into plain old mud” noticing that her boots mixing dirt into the mud changed the texture of the mud. This same child put some mud into a bucket one day and hid it under our table to keep it dry. A week later she checked on it and exclaimed “My experiment mud got thicker”.
We talked a lot about metamorphosis this month as we made several visits over to the meadow to observe the frogs and frog eggs there. We also found a grub under the dirt and talked about what it might possibly turn into. Teachable moments arise organically at forest kindergarten as children’s discoveries are scaffolded in that moment of awe and wonder.
We had a lot of tea parties this month with the whole class choosing to sit in circle and share the forest tea they had made. Our forest tea blend this season primarily consists of forest candy, red huckleberry leaf, salal leaf, huckleberry leaves and flowers, doug fir sap, blackberry leaves and nettles.
In the forest kindergarten education model, we are committed to interest-led flow learning because we understand that when children are interested in and excited about something, their sense of wonder leads to hunger for knowledge about that subject. We notice that children retain more information when it is dispensed at that moment their curiosity is piqued. Deep learning takes place when children are engaged in something that interests them and that is relevant to them.
I encourage you to head outside with a child in your life and follow their lead. You may be astonished at the learning that takes place naturally when children are engaged in authentic free play in nature.
By Erin Kenny ©2015